By AMANDA GRAY
THE GOSHEN NEWS
Goshen College was home to several pioneers in women’s athletics, according to Sports Information Director Josh Gleason.
“Title IX was very significant here,” he said. “Ruth Gunden and (volleyball coach) Sue Roth were both definitely pioneers in getting females into sports here.”
Ruth Gunden, who retired from the College in 1994 as the Director of International Study, began her career at the College in 1953 and she helped set up an intercollegiate basketball program for women at Goshen and other nearby schools.
Gunden said starting the basketball program, and the larger idea of women’s collegiate sports, was exciting.
“Games happened on the weekends,” she said. “We would caravan in station wagons to ‘sportsdays’ at larger schools and play other girls’ teams. Title IX helped move girls’ sports along, but we already had it started.”
Gunden, who got her Ph.D. from the University of Iowa, said her graduate career in physical education gave her different perspectives for gender equality in sports.
“University of Iowa was a hotbed for women in sports,” she said. “And I was active all my life. I had five brothers older than me. One pitched baseball and one pitched softball — and if there was no one around, they would throw me in pads and I would catch. I was groomed for a career like this, though I couldn’t have planned to do this with my life. I’ve had a good career — what a vast experience.”
Gunden spent her time on summer softball teams and intramural sports in college, but she said it flourished as she coached for Goshen College.
“Title IX legitimized everything we were doing,” she said. “And people in my department were very supportive. We also got support from the community, and we had girls coming from states that had interscholastic teams where they had already been playing. Indiana didn’t have high school sports for girls at the time, but we had girls coming from Florida, Pennsylvania and Iowa that played, even if it was with different rules.”
From the 1950s to the 1970s, Gunden said she saw changes in how women were accepted across the collegiate level.
“You even saw it in studies, too, not just in athletics,” Gunden said. “You saw courses in subjects like women’s studies, and Title IX played a big part in that interest. Women were heads of departments, or even presidents of colleges.”
Gleason agreed that Title IX provides a lot more than the same athletic opportunities.
“Title IX goes to our overall mission as a school to develop leaders, especially in today’s world and climate,” Gleason said. “We’re giving them opportunity to follow passions, and opportunities to make differences in the community.”
Gleason said the faith of Goshen College also affects how gender equality is enacted.
“Being based in the Mennonite Church, we have equality in terms of gender, and also in terms of culture,” Gleason said. “It’s a large factor in the Mennonite Church. Gender equality, in a larger sense, has always been a major factor in our decisions.”
Looking to the future, Gunden said she can only see more and more continued successes for women’s sports.
“The level of skill now is certainly enhanced (from skill levels in the past),” she said. “You have to play in order to improve. I would tell girls to give it all you got. Give it your best.”
Gleason said he also sees continued changes, even after 40 years of legislated equality.
“Obviously, when you look at the numbers, you see great changes in participation,” he said. “I think that 40 years from now, you’ll see even more growth. I’m hoping there will be continued education to get rid of misconceptions of what it means to be a female athlete, getting rid of negative stereotypes.”